Why I Write Fiction For Myself
I have always had a bad habit of giving up on new things if I suck at them. It’s hard to want to learn a skill if it’s going to take a long time before you ever improve at it. I’ve given up a lot of new things because I couldn’t stay focused through the “I’m not getting better at this yet” phase.
Writing is one thing I refuse to give up on. From the moment I could first hold a pencil, I knew I wanted to be an author. As a kid I thought I would write novels like the fiction books I loved to read. Then when I was in high school, I started submitting my writing to competitions for the first time. The results shocked me.
In my first major writing contest, the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition, my fiction and poetry received only honorable mentions. It was a personal essay that won me a coveted silver key. The essay, titled “The Day I Tried Basketball”, discussed the moment I gave up trying to be someone I was not and finally embrace my desire to be a writer. The essay went on to receive other minor writing awards.
I could not believe that my nonfiction was performing better than my fiction. I always thought I would be a novelist, but started I wondering if my fiction was not my forte. In some ways, it was a devastating realization. It forced me to completely reevaluate my writing goals.
I started exploring what kinds of nonfiction writing could be a career for me, and discovered something called science writing. It was the perfect niche for my interests. I switched out of my literature major and submitted an essay about my first science writing internship to a scholarship competition, and won.
Even as I publicly became a science writer, I continued to work on my fiction in private. I could tell it wasn’t as a good as my nonfiction and journalism, but I still enjoyed creating it. I love coming up with stories, feeling the characters come to life in my mind, whispering to me as I fill pages with their lives. There’s something magical about inventing new worlds and people.
Because I love science and research, writing about science comes naturally to me. In a way, fiction writing can be similar. Sometimes I have to research a place or activity or history for a story I’m writing. These skills have sharpened because of my science writing experience and education.
The only skill that hasn’t sharpened is my fiction itself. It just isn’t as good as my essays and journalism. It’s really hard to imagine stories and plots and characters. It’s more difficult than writing about real things. My fiction certainly isn’t winning any awards or even providing a meager income, like my science writing. So, why do I keep doing it?
The simple answer is that I enjoy it, even if I am not gaining anything like an income or awards or a wider readership. It’s enough simply to amuse myself with my stories.
Maybe someday I’ll push myself to finish a book and try to get it edited and published. Maybe I will even win one of the short story competitions I still sometimes enter on a whim, wondering if my writing has finally improved. But in the meantime, I’ll keep quietly plugging away at it in my free time, enjoying the hobby that I do just for myself.
I’m a nonfiction writer by trade. But I’m a hobbyist writer when it comes to fiction, and I’m okay with that. I don’t need to market my work and make money from it. It’s enough to find joy in the simplicity of sitting down to write a story because I feel like it.
Writers are always pushing ourselves for perfection and publication. I think sometimes it’s okay to let go of those goals, or push them to the distant future if it means preserving your happiness and hobby right now. Our culture is obsessed with “side hustles", and I don’t want something I do just for me to become that — yet another source of stress.
“A good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except to keep at it.”
— Chinua Achebe
If I view my fiction writing as something I need to be publicly successful at, I will feel like a failure. But as a private hobby, I can celebrate every step forward like it’s a major milestone. I can feel good about myself and my work because I’m happy with it. That matters far more to me than the approval of contest judges or award panels or anyone else in the world.
Maybe that will change in the future and I’ll venture into fiction professionally. But maybe it won’t ever change. I’m okay with that. I dream of holding a book I wrote and published, finally feeling that sense of realness when it hits bookstore shelves, but there’s good chance it will never be one of my novels.
That’s okay. Because right now, I’m just happy to be writing.